Tuesday, November 30, 2010

udon carbonara

cross cultural carbonara

And so it is fitting that today, for my final blog post for the month, I finally am catching up with all the dishes I had cooked before November began. I don't think I can maintain this one a day pace for December, but it would be nice to get entirely caught up with everything I've cooked in November as well.

This recipe is for an Italian carbonara with Asian flavors. You've got the traditional salty bacon, (traditional for all intents and purposes; I know real Italians use guanchiale), the egg yolk, the garlic and the American addition of cream. Sounds pretty run of the mill, right? Not so fast– the ingredient list also includes bonito flakes, udon noodles, sesame seeds and miso paste, not to mention corn kernels, chives and crab. Needless to say, this is not your Nona's carbonara.

Nathan's mom Tenli got the recipe from SFGate, and we made it while she was visiting Halloween weekend. We were able to find all the necessary ingredients at the Chelsea Whole Foods, save for fresh Udon noodles. It was fun to explore an unfamiliar section of the grocery store, but it really threw into sharp relief just how difficult it is to find Asian food products outside of China Town. Tenli lives out in Oakland, and it probably would have been a safer bet if she brought some of the stuff with her! Luckily, we pulled it all together even without Bay Area imports.

serving up spaghetti– I mean udon

The recipe came together beautifully. I was definitely skeptical about the Japanese getting their hands on my beloved carbonara, but the chef really blended those flavors into something new and delicious. Even with all the add ons, the creamy sauce and the crispy bacon still were the predominate elements. That is not to say that the unusual ingredients did not make their presence known. The dashi seafood broth gave it a very rich umami flavor, which, combined with the miso paste, gave the dish definite Asian undertones. There were just so many more layers of flavors than this simple dish normally contains. It's certainly a little bit more complex than carbonara original flavor, but you can definitely taste the difference.

I particularly appreciated the addition of the corn and crab, which gave the pasta an unexpected sweetness. I also liked the bright green chives, although we actually used the tops of scallions, thinly sliced. The only thing I might change would be to add the egg white in addition to the yolk. It might not make as pretty of a picture, but there's really no reason to let it go to waste.

japanese inspired carbonara

I didn't think that the recipe was particularly well laid out on the SF Gate website, so I'm including a slightly adapted version for you here. If you like carbonara, you should definitely try making this. It was an awesome change of pace and a surprisingly happy marriage of the Eastern and Western flavors. Yum.

Udon Carbonara
(recipe adapted from executive chef Sam Josi, of San Francisco's Umami)

2 pieces kombu (dried kelp), each about 4-inches square
½ cup dried bonito flakes
Wipe the kombu clean; give it a few slits with a knife to open up the tough, rough exterior. Place the kombu and 2 quarts water in a sauce pan over medium-high heat; bring to just shy of a boil - just until small bubbles are fully formed along the bottom. Lower the heat, discard the kombu and add the dried bonito flakes. Keep the pan over the heat until the bonito falls to the bottom of the pan, about three minutes. Skim foam then strain with a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth. This can be made ahead of time and kept refrigerated several days, otherwise freeze.

Sauce and Pasta:
2 slices thick cut bacon, cut crosswise into ¼ inch pieces
¾ cup yellow corn kernels (we bought ours fresh at the whole foods salad bar, but I'm sure frozen would be fine)
2 peeled garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
⅓ cup king crab or Dungeness crab meat, about 1½ ounces (optional)
⅛ tsp kosher salt
⅛ tsp ground white pepper + more to taste
1¼ cups dashi (see above, or substitute with instant dashi, water or shellfish stock)
1 tbsp miso paste
3 tbsp heavy cream
1 large egg yolk
2 individual 6-ounce packages fresh udon noodles (we substituted dry noodles, which worked but weren't as thick as the fresh ones would have been)
Lemon juice to taste
1½ tbsp chives, ¾-inch lengths
1 tbsp toasted black sesame seeds

Cook the bacon in large skillet over medium heat about 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally until fat is rendered and bacon is somewhat crispy with some caramelization. Drain all but about 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat; leave the bacon in the pan. Add corn, sliced garlic, salt to taste, 1/8 teaspoon white pepper, and crab if using. Increase heat to medium-high and cook for a minute, stirring often. Meanwhile whisk the 1½ cups dashi and miso together, add to skillet and reduce by half. Add cream and reduce further until it resembles a loose cream sauce. Keep sauce warm, but do not simmer.

Meanwhile, cook noodles in well-salted water. Drain and add to skillet; toss until well coated; warm over medium heat until the sauce thickens and the noodles are heated through. Taste and toss with lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of the chives and more pepper and salt if needed. Take off heat.

Place all the noodles in one large bowl, garnish with remaining chives and sesame seeds. Make a small indentation in the middle of the noodles for the egg yolk. Stir at the table before serving.

If dividing into smaller portions, let noodles cool for two minutes, then stir in egg before serving. Garnish with remaining chives immediately.

Monday, November 29, 2010

cheesy stuffed acorn squash/squash seed pesto with lime

baked acorn squash stuffed with bread and cheese

Finally, something a bit more seasonal! Of course, now that it's nearly December, the time even for winter squash is passing. I hope there is room in your post-Thanksgiving stomachs for more than just gingerbread and Christmas cookies, because you are going to love this.

The recipe is by Dorie Greenspan, but I first ate the sadly belatedGourmet Magazine version at Thanksgiving at Nathan's stepmother's friend's house in both 2008 and 2009. We were all blown away by how good it was, and I was pleased to discover how easy it was to prepare!

Take a nice winter squash, like a pumpkin or an acorn squash, like I used. Cut off the top and scrape out the seeds, which can be reserved for a later use. Now comes the fun part. Fill up that little squash cavity with whatever deliciousness strikes your fancy. I used cheddar and mozzarella and gouda and crispy bacon bits and minced garlic and cubes of whole wheat bread and a generous sprinkling of basil. Once you've got everything nicely mixed in there, pour in a little cream so that everything gets nice and moist and melds together.

cheesy stuffed squash

You stick the top back onto the stuffed squash and then pop it in a 350˚ oven for an hour or two, based on how big your squash is. You just need the squash to get nice and soft and squishy. When its almost done, you can take off the squash lid and let the cheese get crisp and golden bubbly on top. Then you can dig in, scraping the fleshy squash away from the skin, and mixing it up with all that fabulous rich stuffing. It's sinfully good.

basil lime pumpkin seed pesto

And what of all those seeds? Well, obviously you can toast them with salt and sugar and butter and whatever spices strike your fancy– Lord knows I've toasted enough seeds in my CSA days. If you're looking for something a little different, you might try making basil pesto sauce, substituting the usual pine nuts or walnuts with an equal measure of the toasted seeds.

try seeds instead of nuts

I found an actual recipe for this, which also called for lime juice, which gave whole thing a strange but not altogether unpleasant acidity. It also didn't have any cheese, which was probably good given the addition of the lime juice. Of course, I ended up shaving a little parmesan over the pasta anyway, for a more or less successful dish. Ultimately, this was an interesting way to use up the acorn squash seeds, but was not as good as pesto, original flavor. You've got to try baking a cheese stuffed squash, but you can probably skip the seed pesto unless you find it particularly intriguing.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

tomato basil tart

I was really excited to share this dish with you guys. Of course, now that I've finally gotten around to it, here it is, late November, with nary a tomato in sight, and no prospect of decent ones until next summer. I cook seasonally, but I'm definitely having a tough time keeping the blog up to speed.

So yeah. Even though it is nearly December, I am going to tell you about one of my favorite dishes: Tomato Basil Tart. My mom has been making this for parties since the mid-nineties, and it is totally, wonderfully, unbelievably delicious. It's creamy and cheesy, with plenty of basil, garlic and sweet juicy tomatoes. Since it's so impressively festive in its little tart pan, mom would never ever make it just for the family. There were years of frustration, as she would whisk the finished tart off to parties, leaving me behind to salivate over the lingering aroma.

This was a minor tragedy for me, but a minor culinary triumph for mom. The dish is actually quite easy to prepare, but the end result is both polished and rustic, making it the perfect dish for company. For years, friends and family members would specifically request that she bring her tomato basil tart round to dinner parties and picnics. Just this past summer, her former volleyball coach's wife called up looking for the recipe years and years later. I told my mom this was quite the compliment, but this tart is just that good.

the greatest tomato dish

This recipe dates from 1994, when a Ms Kathleen M. Bonerb, of Glen New Hampshire, entered it in the Pilsbury Bake Off under the Fresh Tomato Ideas Category. I am not sure what the prize levels were, but I assure you that the tomato basil tart, (or Basil-Tomato Tart as she actually called it) was well worth the $200 prize it picked up. This little tart is so perfectly fantastic that I'm frankly shocked that it did not go home with the Grand Prize, which even in 1994 had to have been more than a couple Benjamins.

Anyway. You should make this. When my mom finally turned a worn photocopy of the recipe over to me, I was surprised to learn that it called for ready made pie crust and mayonnaise. I would have never thought that one of my favorite dishes could have sprung from such humble ingredients, but I wasn't about to mess with success. Ok, so I made my own pie crust. But other than that, there's very little to tinker with in this baby.

a gooey slice of tomato basil tart

I know I usually do not include full recipes on here, but today I am making an exception, because I so want you to try this for yourself. I figured this would be the rare entry that is more than a rehash of something that's already been all over the interwebs, but of course I found it on some allrecipes clone in about 10 seconds of searching. Bummer.

Anyway, I am still proud to present a family favorite, the dish that my mother is so famous for, the tomato basil tart. Here she is in all her glory, and with a couple notes from mom and from me.

Tomato Basil Tart
recipe b Kathleen M. Bonerb, winner in the 1994 Pillsbury Bake Off
Be ready. Your friends will request the recipe for this garden-fresh appetizer or entreƩ.

½ of a 15 oz. pkg. folded refrigerated unbaked piecrust (1 crust)
1½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese, 6 oz
5 Roma tomatoes, about 12 oz
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil, leaves only
4 cloves garlic
⅓ cup mayonnaise or salad dressing*
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
⅛ t. ground white pepper **
Shredded fresh basil, optional

Unfold piecrust according to package directions. Place in a 9-inch quiche dish or glass pie plate. Flute edge; press with the times of a fork, if desired. Pre-bake according to package directions. Remove from oven. Sprinkle with ½ cup of the mozzarella cheese. Cool on a wire rack.

Cut tomatoes into wedges; drain on paper towels. Arrange tomato wedges atop melted cheese in the baked pie shell. In a food processor bowl, combine basil and garlic; cover and process until coarsely chopped. Sprinkle over tomatoes.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine remaining mozzarella cheese, mayonnaise or salad dressing, Parmesan cheese and pepper. Spoon cheese mixture over basil mixture, spreading to evenly cover the top.

Bake in 375˚ oven for 35 to 40 minutes or till top is golden and bubbly. Serve warm. If desired, sprinkle with basil leaves. Makes 8 appetizer or 4 main-dish servings.

Says Sarah: * we only ever use mayo
** I always sub in black pepper to no ill effects
Says Mom: "I have used strips of aluminum foil on pie crust edge after its partially cooked and remove when tart is cooked.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

tomato soup with grilled cheese

big bowl o' soup

I can't believe how quickly this year is just flying by! Thanksgiving has come and gone, this is my 27th consecutive day of blog posting, and I've been at this since January! I am surprised at how long I've stuck with this, to be perfectly honest. A hundred and fifty three entries! I think it's about time I make up a logo and dress this baby up a bit. Some actual site design is long overdue.

Today's entry is actually a bit of a throwback. The blog's third entry was for tomato soup with grilled cheese, and so again we have this classic combo. A nice creamy soup with a gooey sandwich is always a winner, but there are about a million ways to put such a meal together. Last time we used a Cook's Illustrated recipe, but this time I pulled up a recipe from the Food Network's Tyler Florence.

cheddar monterey jack grilled cheese

And believe it or not, oven roasted tomatoes with homemade chicken stock, bay leaves, onions, butter, basil and a splash of cream makes for a pretty damn good tomato soup. Who'd've thuk, huh? And a buttered grilled cheese sandwich pressed on a griddle? Divine. There's a reason it's called comfort food, my friends.

The Tyler Florence recipe calls for fresh tomatoes, but our first go around of tomato soup came from Cook's Illustrated or America's Test Kitchen, (I can't remember which), and that only used canned tomatoes, so you don't have to wait until good tomatoes roll around to make a soup like this.

pot o' soup

There's not much else to say, except that I am watching Julie and Julia while writing this post, and I am starting to feel bad for poor Nathan. I'm not nearly as awful as Amy Adams was to her husband, but I know that he's getting a bit impatient with me writing these entries every night. I plan to continue to with writing regular entries come December, (and it can't come soon enough), but without the daily deadlines I hopefully won't be accused to ignoring him any longer.

So, in summary: tomato soup = yum, grilled cheese = it's perfect mate, and blogging every day = good for the three people who actually read this, but bad for the boyfriend. It's all about balance, and come December, I hope to find a better one.

Friday, November 26, 2010

brown butter cauliflower with capers, anchovies and breadcrumbs/hasselback potatoes

breadcrumb topped cauliflower

Today I have two things to talk about: cauliflower and potatoes. The first turned out quite delicious. The second just didn't cook all the way through and was as such, quite a disappointment. Anyway.

Cauliflower. A great way to make it is by browning lots of butter and then cooking lots of cauliflower, anchovies and capers in that nutty toasty liquid. Once it's starting to get soft, sprinkle on a bunch of breadcrumbs and then pop it in the oven til it gets nice and crispy. Salt, crunchy, crispy delicious. The anchovies and capers really gave it a nice bite, and the breadcrumbs gave it a great texture.

cauliflower, potatoes and salad

I served it with a leafy green salad and a basked hasselback potato. I was really excited about making that when I read about it. Unfortunately, even sliced super thin and laced with butter and herbs, it just refused to cook, and I ended up eating slightly raw potato. Nasty. I will just have to try this again, with more patience. I definitely cooked it for over an hour though, so I don't know what went wrong.

Luckily, the cauliflower was especially delicious– Even Nathan thought it was good!

undercooked potato

Thursday, November 25, 2010

tomates farcies/sausage with arugula

breadcrumb topped baked tomatoes

Happy Thanksgiving, and greetings from Boston!

I know that I am supposed to be writing about squash and turkeys and things, because it's Thanksgiving, but I'm not going to to do that. Sorry. You're probably sick of those things anyway; perhaps even literally. Instead I am going to bring you back to those warmer days of early fall, with late tomatoes, for this recipe that Nathan's mom, Tenli, gave us for baked tomatoes.

our french tomato dinner plate

Nathan's stepmom, Marie, is French, and her very French mother, Jackie, gave this recipe to Tenli, who passed it along to us. It's very easy and a great way to serve a ripe, juicy tomato. Just promise me you won't try to make this with the mealy pink type you're likely to find in the grocery store this time of year. It's just not worth it.

Once you've got your hands on some good tomatoes, say like next July, this is what you're going to do: cut a beefsteak tomato in half, and cover the cut surface with a mix of breadcrumbs, minced garlic, parsley, salt and pepper, moistening the mixture with a drizzle of olive oil. Bake it at 425˚ for about 12 minutes. I put it in the toaster oven, which worked pretty well, but it got a little crispy on top being so close to the heat. With that, you've got yourself a great little side dish!

sausage and wilted arugula

We ate our tomatoes with some ravioli with butter and cheese, chopped up sausage, and arugula that I briefly sauteed in the sausage fat. It was super delicious. Thanks to Tenli for hooking us up with such a brilliantly easy and yummy meal!

Normally, I don't bother trying to write up a recipe, but since Tenli took the trouble of sending this one to us, I'm going to pass it along to you readers directly. Don't get used to it!

Tomates Farcies
serves 2 as a side dish, 4 as a starter

Preheat oven to 425, and put one of the oven racks at the top of the oven.

Take two large tomatoes in season (beefsteak or a large heirloom variety are both delicious!) Cut in half and place cut side up on a baking sheet covered in foil.
3TBS bread crumbs
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBS parsley
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Distribute crumb/garlic/parsley mixture evenly between the tomato halves, then drizzle each one with +/- 1 TBS olive oil

Bake in top of oven for around 12-15 minutes.

Very tasty!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

roasted potato salad with poblano mayo

poblano potato salad with bacon crumbles

Today I drove 4 and a half hours, largely in stop and go traffic on a stick shift. There were serious leg cramps involved, and I am tired and not exactly in the mood to blog about some potato salad I made over a month ago. But here I am, blogging just for you. And National Blog Post Writing Month, obviously.

There is a common thread in much of my writing here on the blog– "I got x vegetable, so I made x." This will start to trail off in the weeks to come, as I only have two more pick ups before the end of the season, but today's entry is another one in that mold.

I had a) potatoes, b) cilantro, c) poblano peppers and d) garlic. The obvious solution to the problem is Rick Bayless's potato salad. The potatoes and garlic are roasted, and then mixed with an olive oil based roasted poblano pepper mayo that you make in the blender. Then you add chopped scallion and cilantro, and plenty of crumbled bacon.

Of course, this was way way too spicy for me because I am a wimp, even though I used far less poblano than the original recipe called for. Also, the mayonnaise totally broke. So much for the foolproof blender method. Personally, I've never failed with a whisk and a slow drip of oil, but this go around with the blender totally confounded me. There was definitely a big puddle of oil on the bottom of my salad. I love Mexican genius Rick Bayless, but I count that as two big problems with this recipe, or at the very least my rendition of it.

Of course, there were a lot of things that were yummy tasty about this dish. Crispy potatoes and bacon, bright green scallions and plenty of roasted garlic. All good things. But the overly spicy peppers and too much slick and oily dressing really killed this potato salad. Don't get me wrong; I still ate it, but I felt like my own parent, bribing myself to eat just three more bites before I could have a cookie.

Rick Bayless's roasted poblano potato salad

Rick Bayless is still the man, but I definitely need to adjust his recipes to better suit my wimpy palate.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

milk baked fennel

finocchio con latte al forno

So I was a little disappointed to only get one bulb of fennel this year from the food co-op. And then it came to actually cooking that fennel and I remembered I don't really know what to do with it, haha.

Luckily, I found a great recipe from that issue of Saveur with all the Roman food. I blogged about the pork chops and pepperonata from the same article earlier this year. With my fennel, I made this traditional Roman dish where the fennel bulb is sliced into wedges and baked in milk.

Not wanting to waste anything, I decided to try and include the fennel stalks as well as the bulb. This led to mixed results. The bulb was meltingly tender and delicious. The stalks were another story. Some of them got really soft and yummy, but some of them were very fibrous and stringy. I definitely think there's a reason people don't usually eat them. Although some of them turned out okay, I think ultimately that the stalks are not really meant to be eaten. They'd probably season a soup or a fish stock just fine, but you don't want to bite into one of those chewy stringy ones. Yuck.

crispy baked fennel

The basic gist is to cook the fennel with plenty of milk on the stovetop until it starts to get soft, and then you finish it off in the oven with a topping of parmesan cheese, which becomes nice and crispy. When I put everything in the oven, it looked like a loose, soupy mess, but the milk really cooked down and became av very thick and delicious sauce. And the fennel itself was just so soft and delicious, and surprisingly flavorful with just the milk, cheese and some seasoning.

If you've got fennel, this is a very easy and satisfying dish to prepare. Well worth trying out!

Monday, November 22, 2010

roasted delicata squash

baked squash with garlic and oil

Have you ever had a delicata squash? Before this fall, I don't think I'd ever seen one, let alone eaten one. When you get strange vegetables in your food co-op share, google is definitely your friend. One quick search gave me the confidence to prepare this unknown veggie.

It turns out that the delicata squash is sweet, and like most other squash, gets nice and soft when you bake it. What makes it a little bit different is that you can actually eat the skin, which doesn't stay tough and chewy, the way pumpkin or acorn squash skin does. That means that once you scrape the seeds out of a delicata squash, you can pretty much eat the whole thing, and it's all delicious.

I've made two delicatas this year. The first time, I just smeared on some butter, sprinkled on some salt and pepper and then roasted it until soft. The second time I got a little more creative, filling the center cavity with olive oil, garlic cloves and basil. This gave it a distinct savory quality that countered its natural sweetness.

If you are a squash fan, the delicata is definitely one worth seeking out!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

tortilla espanola

spanish potato and egg omelet

So check this out. Tortilla espanola, prepared in my very own kitchen by a real life Spaniard!

My roommate Laura spent junior year abroad in Spain. After we graduated, we found a place in the Bronx, but I didn't want to move in until I had found a job, so Laura needed to find someone to sublet my room for the summer. Conveniently, Laura's Spanish host family happened to put her in touch with a friend of theirs who was in New York for a few months. Katia was about to start college, and was in the US for the first time, hoping to improve her English. She was working as an au pair, but the family she was with spoke mainly Russian and she was very unhappy with them. In other words, Laura and Katia were a perfect fit.

The two of them hung out all summer, and Laura showed her all around our old neighborhood in the Bronx. Katia revealed that her guidebook told her to stay out of the borough in general. Even though I was living on Long Island at the time, I was able to spend time with the two of them whenever I was in the city that summer, which was pretty much as often as I could afford. We always had a lot of fun. Fordham had a pitiful number of foreign students, and I really only met other Americans when I studied briefly in Italy, so it was very cool to hang out with the genuine European article. Katia went home after September was over, but for that brief summer, she was an important part of our post-collegiate circle of friends.

Last month, Katia was back in New York for the first time in over two years. She came over our apartment for dinner, bringing a massive and delicious block of Manchego cheese, and her boyfriend Sergio, who cooked us this impressive tortilla espanola.

Laura, Sergio and Katia cheerfully chattered away in Spanish. In response, I lamely offered a word or two like "manana" or "necessito," generally butchering the language. (I took 8 years of Spanish, so I know how pathetic that is.) Sergio expertly sliced the cheese, spreading it with strawberry jam. Laura chopped up the potatoes and Sergio fried them until crisp in a skillet full of vegetable oil. He scrambled the eggs and then cooked them with the potatoes like a big omelet. Expertly, Sergio flipped the skillet over and the egg potato mixture out onto a plate, so he could slide the uncooked side back into the pan. It turned out perfectly golden brown and cooked all the way through. Just beautiful.

I was very impressed with this little slice of Spain being served up in Harlem, but Sergio was very critical of his work. He found the tortilla to be bland, since he had neglected to season it. I offered to bring in the salt shaker, but he urged me not to, because he thought it was too late to add salt. If I salted the dish at the table, the salt would merely coat the food, remaining a separate element instead of permeating the eggs and potatoes as they cooked. Regardless of the salt issue, I thought it was pretty good, and watching him cook for us was so cool– like the Spanish version of that Take Home Chef show!

Having Sergio and Katia visit us reminded me just how much I love Spanish food, and how little I know about cooking it. Hopefully I will branch out in that direction soon, because I don't anticipate friendly foreigners coming over to make me dinner again anytime soon!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

anchovy and spinach pasta with tomato

spaghetti, spinach and tomato in anchovy sauce

This was easy and delicious: angel hair pasta, tossed with spinach and tomatoes that had been sauteed in olive oil that I loaded up with garlic and lots and lots of anchovies. The spinach cooks quickly in the pan, and the tomatoes only break down the tiniest amount. In this dish, they aren't a sauce but a vegetable, just briefly cooked over high heat. The spaghetti is coated in savory olive oil, and the tomatoes are only one more component of the dish, rather than its defining element.

not fishy

In general, I love pasta, and the simple combo of garlic, oil and anchovy makes a surprisingly rich and delicious sauce. I know it may seem unexpected but, as long as you don't use too too many anchovies that you use, this is surprisingly unfishy. Those little buggers just melt way into the hot oil. I used probably close to ten anchovies, but the garlic and spinach were still the predominant flavors somehow. When you cook the anchovy, it dissolves into the oil, leaving behind a nice savory umami flavor, but little of the pungent fishiness that so many people take issue with. Adding the tomatoes and spinach makes for a nice hearty dish with plenty of veggies. Sprinkle with a hefty amount of grated cheese and some fresh black pepper, and you are totally good to go.

Friday, November 19, 2010

green pepper relish/apple crisp

spicy green pepper relish

Happy Friday everyone! I am currently drinking wine at my friend Lauren's apartment after Hill Country Fried Chicken and their awesome biscuits. I don't really want to be writing a blog post right now, but I am supposed to be doing this every day for the month. So yeah, here it goes. Needless to say, I am going to keep this short.

lots of apple crisp

Last month Lauren had a group of us over once again, and this is what I brought: green pepper relish, and apple crisp.

I made the green pepper relish because I had poblano peppers from the food co-op. I didn't know they were nearly as spicy as they are. In fact, I thought they were like, green bell peppers. Whoops. So instead of one tiny jalapeno and one much larger bell pepper, I had a one to one ratio of poblano to bell pepper. Whoops. My friend Mike loved the relish, but Lauren and I both found it oppressively spicy. I would have liked it if it maybe had about a quarter of the poblanos in it, which it probably should have if I just followed the recipe as written. Thanks food co-op, for not labeling your peppers.

a delicious fall treat with ice cream

Luckily, the apple crisp Laura and I threw together was way more successful. If I'm being honest, she actually made this on her own, but after she constructed it, I baked it, and I ate it, and I am perfectly qualified to tell you just how good it was: fucking delicious.

The oats, butter, flour and brown sugar topping was perfectly crisp and toasty, coating the spiced apples with tasty deliciousness. With vanilla ice cream, it's a perfect fall dessert. So thanks to Lauren for letting me use her laptop for this post, and for letting me bring this food to her house!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

baked kale chips

hey it's baked kale chips

This is another one of those things that I probably shouldn't even both blogging about because it's been so extensively covered by other food writers, most of whom are way better at this than I am. (This is normally where I would give you a series of links demonstrating just how saturated the blogosphere is with this recipe, except that a: I almost typed blogoshop, which sounds like a vaguely terrifying place, and b: I sliced open my left pinky cutting brussel sprouts off the stalk tonight so I am typing with only nine fingers.)

Well pinky be damed, I am still going to tell you about these kale chips anyway. I can hear Nathan complaining already, but I have my reasons. Firstly, I don't really think my "audience" is reading any other food blogs, so I expect this will still be new to all five of you who are here. Secondly, I'm not writing this blog to get a deal writing a cookbook of my original recipes. I'm writing this blog to keep a personal record of what I'm cooking. What worked, what didn't, what I loved, where I got all my recipes... In other words, it's not about you, dear reader, it's about me.

But seriously, even without these reasons, and even if this wasn't pretty tasty, I'd probably have blogged about this just because it looked so cool. My baked kale chips, lightly oiled and salted, were not only an excellently crispy snack. They were like a lovely plate of fallen autumn leaves!

As for this recipe, the amount of attention it's gotten is somewhat ridiculous. My theory about the popularity of baked kale chips is that they've taken off because everyone is joining a CSA these days. Food co-ops tend to give out a lot of kale, which is not exactly the world's tastiest veggie. Baked kale chips are crispy and salty, which everyone loves, and they don't really taste like kale anymore. Hardly a revelation, for sure, but still a marked improvement on some more steamed or stir-fired kale.

Plus, check out how cool these look! Like fall on a plate. With Thanksgiving around the corner and piles of freshly fallen leaves on the street, it's hard not to get a smile from eating something that looks so seasonal.

a cookie tray of baked kale leaves

Believe it or not, these peeled right off the baking sheet, and stayed pretty much in one piece. If you really must know, I followed this recipe from the Smitten Kitchen. Happy kale chipping!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

balsamic orange beets with goat cheese and walnuts

beets cooked in orange juice and balsamic vinegar

So as I've mentioned, I'm not too crazy about beets. I don't dislike them, but I get very bored of them after a few bites. Beets are kind of a chore. But I promised I'd try them with goat cheese, so that is just what I did. I know that adding pine nuts is another popular choice, but there was apparently some shortage in China and those little buggers cost $20 a pound, so I used walnuts instead. Way more affordable.

I also took a peek in The Flavor Bible, which suggested pairing beets with oranges. I had some orange juice in the fridge, so I peeled my beets, chopped up an onion, and then boiled the beets in a mixture of oj and balsamic vinegar.

beet salad with goat cheese

Served over arugula with goat cheese and toasted walnuts, these orange infused beets were pretty much as good and they were going to get. That being said, I still wasn't too thrilled with those beets. It was good, but I guess beets just aren't my thing, because I didn't really want to finish them.

Unfortunately, I'm going to keep getting beets as long as I'm in the food co-op, so I guess I'll just have to keep looking for a beet that I love.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

bread salad: the good and the bad

I really only started cooking after I had my own kitchen and couldn't rely on my parents or the caf to feed me. I knew my way around the kitchen from helping out my parents, but until the summer after my junior year, it wasn't a place that I chose to spend much time in. That June, I found myself cooking for ten on a service trip to New Orleans, when no one else seemed comfortable stepping up to the plate. With very limited resources and absolutely no recipes, I somehow managed to make something that everyone ate without complaint. I wouldn't call that dinner a triumph, but I would say that it kindled something deep inside me. Bolstered by that success, I began to feel drawn to the kitchen.

After my trip to New Orleans, I went to Europe for two months. Obviously, food was a big part of that trip, and I didn't have to prepare most of it. Traveling with friends through Britain, Spain and France, there was always another restaurant, another sandwich shop, another gelato shop. When we finally got to Italy, Mike, Marianne and I stayed in a small apartment with a tiny little stove in Cinque Terra. One night we bought pasta and lots of fresh veggies in the town of Riomaggiore, and I cooked dinner. It was just a simple pasta dish, but I got a real thrill out of making something tasty from quality ingredients.

From Cinque Terra, we went to Pisa and to Rome, and then we went our separate ways– Marianne back to New York, Mike to Albania, and I to Florence. There, I had an apartment with five other American girls for a month. It was a fifth floor walkup, but there were three bedrooms, a tiny living room, a rooftop balcony with a view of the Duomo (*sigh*), and a pretty nice kitchen. Obviously, I ate out a great deal in Florence, but I also went shopping at the San Lorenzo Market and started making myself dinner.

I probably only cooked three or four times while I was in that apartment, but it was always kind of fun and exciting, even if the results weren't that spectacular. I remember making a great pasta dish with onions and cannellini beans, and calling up my Nona to get her recipe for pasta in ricotta cheese sauce. Again, nothing super fancy, but I got quite a sense of accomplishment from throwing those dishes together without a recipe.

Of course, after a while I felt like making something more traditionally Florentine. I don't remember where, but I did find a recipe for a bread salad called panzanella that Italian peasants made with their stale bread. I had lots of stale bread, and it seemed easy, so I decided to whip up a batch of panzanella.

soggy panzenella

Unfortunately, it was soggy and bland, and a total disappointment. I figured I must have done something very wrong. I was a novice cook, and I didn't think it was possible that I could be so unimpressed with traditional Italian food. I love me some peasant food, so this mushy mess just couldn't be right– could it?

Well last month I gave panzanella another shot, and let me tell you the result was exactly the same. Totally bland, even loaded up with basil, garlic, roasted red pepper, tomatoes and sauteed spinach. The bread, though toasted absorbed all the moisture from the veggies, turning the salad into a cold, wet, unappetizing pile of sludge.

Basically, I don't know why this dish hasn't been put out to pasture. Panzanella is just not good. Luckily, I have an alternative for you that is way better.

it's not panzanella– it's way better

Though this dish has a lot of the same ingredients as panzanella, it manages to avoid getting soggy and gross. I cubed the day old bread, but instead of toasting it, I melted some butter in a cast iron skillet, and then tossed in the bread. I let it sit until it got really crispy, and almost burned. Then I stirred all the bread around, letting it soak up all that butter goodness. Almost saturated with butter, the bread stayed crispy on the outside, even when I mixed it with sauteed arugula and pan fried tomatoes. I threw all that on a plate and topped it with some goat cheese, plenty of cracked black pepper and a fried egg.

toasty buttery bread with goat cheese, pan-fried tomatoes and wilted arugula

Now that's what I call a delicious bread salad.

Monday, November 15, 2010

i miss arthur avenue

arugula, prosciutto and parmesean salad

I am really, really glad that I live in Manhattan now. Yes, it may be upper Manhattan, but it's still way more accessible than our old place in the Bronx. People are willing to come over on days of the year that aren't Fordham homecoming or my birthday party, and I love that.

What I do miss is Arthur Ave. The meat, the cheese, the torrone, the wine, the pasta... So much amazing foodstuff. I love it here in Harlem, but I haven't seen so much as a leaf of basil up here, let alone prosciutto di parma. I'm not asking for specialty Italian food, but a nice butcher would be cool.

red pepper and fresh mozzarella bruschetta

So, when I get a chance to go back, I blow two weeks of grocery money in a single afternoon and eat like a pig. I go to Casa Della mozzarella and buy pillowy little bocconcini. They are absolutely perfect and delicious bites just as they are, but I don't always stop there. I also go to Madonia Bakery for their excellent bread, (and peerless canoli), because bocconcini also make absolutely delicious bruschetta with some garlic marinated roasted red peppers, basil, parsley and some wilted greens.

prosciutto close up

Here we have a lovely and simple little salad that I threw together after my last trip to Arthur. I got a quarter pound of prosciutto di parma and a small wedge of parmesean at Teitel Brothers. I made the salad with the paper thin slices of cured meat, some curls of the cheese, a lemony vinaigrette dressing, and then arugula and tomato from the co-op.

four little bruschetta

Man, this was a good dinner. I wish I could get back up there more often. The ingredients on Arthur Avenue are so good and so flavorful that you barely have to do anything to them!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

lemon buttered green beans with toasted almonds

really good green beans

I must apologize for the rather boring blog posts this weekend. I've been a little overwhelmed with all the posting this month, and I guess I'm in need of a second wind. Hopefully that will come with the start of a new week.

Anyway, today I've got these green beans for you. I'll be the first to admit that green beans aren't my favorite vegetable, but made like this they make a great side dish. All you need is a little butter, lemon, salt, pepper and slivered almonds, and you can make the lowly string bean sing.

green beans with almonds

We got a lot of green beans from the food co-op this summer, and this was my go-to preparation. Simply toast the almonds briefly until golden brown, making sure not to let them burn. Then the green beans are cooked in melted butter over low heat, sprinkled with lemon juice and tossed with the nuts. It may not seem like much, but it's really quite good.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

tomato mayo sandwich

tomato and mayo on toast

So it's difficult to top a really ripe and juicy tomato. They are just so delicious and it's a shame that those mealy pink monstrosities are all that's available for so much of the year. Believe it or not, I just finished my last batch of awesome local tomatoes yesterday. I made a tomato basil tart, which I will be covering soon, but first I would like to throw up a quick post about a simpler way to enjoy a really wonderful tomato: sliced thickly, between two slices of toast slathered with mayo.

This may not sound like much, but there actually have been odes written to this sandwich. It doesn't get much easier than that, and the straightforward ingredients really shine in such a barebones presentation. For best results, you should really try making your own mayonnaise. It's thicker and more flavorful than the store-bought variety, and actually not way too painful or time-consuming to make.

Sometimes you just want something basic for lunch, and this quite fits the bill. I feel like there was some children's literature character who used to eat tomato sandwiches, and I think that the childhood Sarah thought that was gross, but as an adult I totally appreciate a shining tomato and some crisp bread adorned only with mayo.

Friday, November 12, 2010

pesto trapanese

tomato basil pesto

As you may know, pesto is my favorite food. I could eat it all the time, I love it so much. When I see a bunch of basil, my brain is already transforming it into a beautiful batch of pesto sauce. Of course, when I say pesto, I'm talking about the sauce served over pasta. Nathan somehow finds this confusing, and always has to clarify:

"what did you have for dinner?"

"some pesto with salad and a pork chop."

"like, straight up pesto?"

"no! with spaghetti, duh."

Clearly, he is an idiot. In my (admittedly pesto-centric) world, the word pesto is used interchangeably as both the sauce and the pasta dish. Don't try and tell me otherwise. I am equally uninterested in deviating from my family's absolutely perfect pesto recipe. In general, I love trying new foods and different takes on old favorites, but pesto is one big exception to that. I love the creamy, smooth texture of my pesto. Nothing else measures up for me, to the point where I have absolutely no interest in ordering restaurant pesto. Make pesto like an Italian grandmother? No thanks, I'm pretty sure I already make the platonic ideal of pesto, and no amount of old world traditions or America's Test Kitchen tinkering can shake my faith in that belief.

However, my curiosity was piqued when I stumbled across this recipe for pesto trapanese. I hadn't heard of it, but after a little googling, I learned that the pesto that I know and love is not the only type of pesto that those culinary geniuses the Italians came up with. My pesto comes from Genoa, so it is more specifically pesto genovese. Down in Sicily, they make this pesto trapanese that swaps the pine nuts for almonds and adds fresh tomatoes. (There is also apparently a pesto pantesco, which adds capers, dried chili peppers and other herbs to the trapanese variety.)

Since this pesto trapanese is basically an entirely separate sauce, rather than a pale imitation of my favorite dish, I decided to make it. (It didn't hurt that soon after I learned of its existence, the smitten kitchen gave its stamp of approval.)

As with pesto, original flavor, this trapanese pesto is quite easy to make. Toast almonds, blend up almonds, and then add everything else and blend. Everything else being basil, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and grated cheese. Serve over pasta.

The verdict? Eh. Not nearly as good as the real deal. It was way too dry. Also, it was disconcertingly very similar to taste to romesco sauce, which makes sense considering both have large amounts of almonds and tomatoes. (Laura actually asked that was what was on the pasta. She didn't love it either.) I didn't mind it actually, left over and moistened up with a bit of half and half, but that's hardly a ringing endorsement.

Ultimately, this was ok, but the Genovese definitely have the Trapanese beat when it comes to pesto. I am pleased to report that the all basil variety retains the crown, and the rights to be called pesto sans adjectives. As always, when I say pesto, I mean I am inhaling a delicious bowl of pasta with the world's best nutty, garlicy basil sauce.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

corn, bacon and green bean hash

corn and green bean stir fry

This is a little something I like to call "omg what am I going to do with all these vegetables I better just throw them in the frying pan with some bacon and that should taste pretty good right?" And believe it or not, it did.

There's not really too much to say about this one. I just chopped up everything real small and cooked it in my small frying pan. Sweet yellow corn, green beans, onion, basil, grated romano cheese, plenty of cracked black pepper and some toasted walnuts. It all came together is a sweet, salty mix of deliciousness. And that was all she wrote.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

epic BLT

What do you think this might be for?

Oh that's right, it's a big, greasy BLT, loaded with so many toppings that you have to eat it with a knife and fork.

I wanted to make a BLT with my food co-op tomatoes, and I also wanted to use some avocado. California must have had quite a bumper crop this summer, because even here in New York they were unusually cheap and delicious this year.

I don't know why I even bothered to google making a BLT, but I am glad that I did, because Thomas Keller's recipe gave me the brilliant idea of adding melted cheese and a fried egg. Leave it to a world class chef to come up with a bacon egg and cheese/BLT/grilled cheese combo. An unholy alliance of all things fatty and delicious, this was one epic sandwich.

I may not be a world class chef, but I have to say that I think I did Keller one better with the addition of avocado. And in a further stroke of genius, I also tossed on some caramelized onions. If I had had time, I would have even made the mayonnaise from scratch, but Hellman's did just fine.

I think it's safe to say that there's not much you could do to make this sandwich more delicious, and making this during the day allowed me to get actual good photos with natural light! Imagine that!

Yeah, that's the money shot.